She walked into the office for the interview. No suit like a Gen Xer would wear, but business casual at least, and with a smile full of potential. Nonchalant in tone; smart; not enthusiastic, yet happy for the opportunity. “You’re hired,” said the CEO (me). “I could use you at the company. You don’t have the experience, but I’m willing to take the chance.”
Over the year, she worked hard, she earned what I thought was a decent salary for her limited experience, and two years later, she gave me her you-know-what-to-kiss—well, not exactly, but basically. I wish I could say this was just one employee, but it actually represents many we’ve worked with over the years, and we’re not alone. This saga plays out every day in countless organizations: the mixed emotions experienced by upper management—the excitement of potential and the painful frustration that both come with young professionals known as millennials.
IGS, the company I lead, was recently awarded position #871 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately owned companies—a milestone for a small, growing business and a personal accomplishment for me, as you can imagine. My business partner and I flew to Arizona for the awards conference and swapped stories with our C-Suite counterparts. Throughout the week, the famous M word surfaced time and time again as leaders asked one another, “How do I deal with millennials?” I felt their pain.
For more than four years, we’ve worked closely with millennials. We’ve trained, molded, supported, encouraged, and taken a chance on them. In one case, our millennial hire had promise. But twenty-four months later, she had opinions; she wanted input, she wanted more money and a new title, and she felt she was equally as qualified as her manager who had eight years’ experience. This scenario plays out constantly in large and small businesses alike. From my friends at Fortune 100 companies to peers at small businesses, the question I hear most among Generation Xers is about how to manage millennials.
First, it’s important to note that as a CEO, I place millennials in two groups—junior millennials (early to mid-20s) and senior millennials (late 20s to early 30s). I find that most of my colleagues’ concerns are reserved for junior millennials. Senior millennials fall on the heels of Gen Xers and are often themselves frustrated with their junior counterparts.
Hopefully, my Top 3 Tips (there are many more) will help you master the patience to manage these dynamic young professionals, knowing that, yes, there is a role for them in your organization.
- They believe their own hype, even if it’s not proven. Generation Xers started their first job with the expectation that they would receive little money, but gain much experience. Often we worked two jobs, one for experience and the other for money to party with our friends. Today’s millennials expect one job to serve all their needs. Remember, many of these young adults didn’t work in high school. Their time was spent on their personal activities, social media, and friends.
- In their eyes, experience is not the best teacher. “Trust me, I can do this job” is what they say; “I’ll prove it to you”—whereas Generation Xers say, “I’ll prove it to you, and then you’ll be able to trust me.” Hard work does not replace experience any more than a good medical student replaces a trained surgeon with more than 115,489 surgery hours.
- They are not like us. The biggest obstacle Generation Xers have is getting over the idea that millennials should think and perform like Generation Xers. It’s never going to happen. We have distinct ideas; we Gen Xers believe you pay your dues, while millennials believe there are no dues to pay.
Of course there is no one-size-fits-all, but owning and running a business where 50% of employees are millennials is a perfect learning experience in organizational development and transformational leadership. And their energy and insight can be contagious and fun. I’ve even found myself doing crazy things like riding a Big Wheel in the office while wearing stilettos!